Govt objects as SC collegium clears judge accused of sexual harassment
The government has taken serious objection to the Supreme Court collegium — a body of top judges that makes appointments to the higher judiciary — not conducting a “proper inquiry” into charges of sexual harassment made by a Karnataka judicial officer against her superior, a district judge, and persisting with appointing him as a judge in the high court, a top government functionary said on Friday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“No woman judge inquired into the matter. The so-called discreet inquiries are not on record,” the functionary added.
The government is of the view that the apex court flouted its own guidelines for inquiring into sexual harassment matters that it had laid down in the Vishakha case. These are guidelines that all organisations are mandated to follow.
The complainant said in her complaint to the Prime Minister that she was not asked any questions on her allegations by any authority from the Karnataka hight court or the Supreme Court.
The lack of an inquiry means “due process” has not been followed and the government is likely to offer this as a reason and go slow in clearing the appointment, a law ministry official familiar with the matter added, asking not to be identified.
The functionary and the official are referring to the complaint mentioned in Supreme Court judge J Chelameswar’s letter to Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and other judges of the top court, contents of which were reported by HT on March 27 and 28.
The SC judge raised the issue of Karnataka chief justice Dinesh Maheshwari starting an inquiry into the complaint against the district judge after receiving a direct reference from the law ministry in December, and without keeping the apex court in the loop. The allegations pertain to the period between December 2013 and May 2015.
The law ministry official defended the ministry’s act of directly referring the matter to the Karnataka high court, saying that a fresh complaint was made to both the Prime Minister and the President in December 2017, which was then sent by these offices to the law ministry’s department of justice. HT has copies of the identical complaints. The district judge declined comment on the issue. HT is not naming him.
The official said the complaint was sent “routinely” to the HC Registrar General “because all ministries are bound by the Vishaka guidelines which say they must act on each complaint and file a status report on what happened.” The ministry had only asked for information on the action taken not insisted on an inquiry”, the official added.
Describing the probe against the district judge as uncalled for, Justice Chelameswar pointed out in his letter that the judge’s name was cleared by the SC collegium after the allegations levelled against him were proved to be “incorrect and concocted”.
“We, the judges of the Supreme Court of India, are being accused of ceding our independence and institutional integrity to the executive’s incremental encroachment,” he wrote.
Listing the sequence of events, the law ministry official said the complainant made her first complaint on June 3, 2016 to the CJI, against the alleged harassment when the district judge’s name was already under consideration for elevation and soon after cleared by the SC collegium. She also sent her complaint to the law ministry which forwarded it to the collegium , but it was ignored, the official added. The ministry sent back the file recommending the appointment to the collegium, but this it has been returned (to the ministry), the official said.